Newport Beach may test cleaner-burning natural gas fire rings

Some residents have complained about the smoke from fire pits in Orange County.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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Newport Beach residents may soon be one step closer to roasting marshmallows beach-side over natural gas-burning fire rings.

City staff plans to recommend Tuesday that council members approve city participation in a pilot project with the South Coast Air Quality Management District to install natural gas fire rings in certain beach areas while removing some of the existing wood-fueled fire rings, the Daily Pilot reported.

There are 33 fire rings in the sand near the Balboa Pier and 27 at Corona del Mar State Beach. These would be reduced to 15 and 12, respectively, under the staff-recommended plan, rather than be eliminated completely as the council had previously voted.


Fewer wood-fueled rings would allow the city to spread out those that remain, positioning them at least 50 feet apart, per regulations AQMD passed in July.

The proposed plan includes two large, surfboard-shaped natural gas bonfire rings in each beach area, and three natural gas-fueled single rings in each area. The bonfires, like those seen at restaurants, might accommodate 20 to 25 people, which would ensure that the same number of people could enjoy beachside flames as before.

“I think there’s a wonderful risk that these are going to be really popular,” City Manager Dave Kiff said.

Before the gas rings could be implemented, the AQMD board must give final approval for two contractors to both build sample propane and natural gas fire rings as part of a pilot program.

The AQMD board is set to vote on the proposals at its Dec. 6 meeting. It hoped to hear before that vote if the city wished to participate.

If the AQMD grants funding for the prototypes, staff recommends installing the new gas rings in two phases, with an initial test period at the Balboa Pier before expanding to Corona del Mar. Rather than be positioned among the wood burning rings in the sand, which would require pipelines to run under the beach, they would be placed at the edge of the beach, near hard landscaping such as parking lots.


The proposed changes come amid concerns about the health hazards of wood-burning fire pits, evidence of which “continues to be strong, continues to be compelling,” said Mayor Keith Curry, citing a World Health Organization classification of particulate matter in outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic for humans. The city’s plan would cut the volume of wood smoke at least by 50%, according to a city press release.

It also ensures compliance with the AQMD fire ring regulations, including a 700-foot buffer zone between beach bonfires and homes, that go into effect March.

The California Coastal Commission must give approval before the new rings are installed.

After that? Bring on the marshmallows.

“They’re the one thing you can burn out there that’s not toxic,” Curry said with a laugh.


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Foxhall writes for Times Community News.